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1. What is the advantage of a steel skillet over a cast iron one? I currently use cast iron for most everything and am curious what I might be missing.

2. If there's an advantage to getting a steel skillet as well, what would be recommended?

3. Is a steel skillet good for cooking omelettes?

Here's my current cast iron skillet arsenal, measured inside bottom:

  • Wagner Size #3 - about 5 inches
  • Wagner Size #6 - about 7 inches (the most used pan in my kitchen)
  • Lodge - about 8 inches

I also have two 8 inch nonstick skillets previously used for sauteeing and eggs... and they are losing the nonstick surface. I've killed 6 nonstick pans in 5 years, and I'm done with them.

I'm looking to get a new egg pan, thinking about an enamel-inside pan, as that's what my mom used exclusively for eggs.

In case it's relevant, I also have 1.5, 3, and 3.5 quart All Clad pots (all pieces in this set except the 10" fry pan).

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Note that "steel" and "stainless steel" are two very different materials. The better modern stainless pans are actually a stack consisting of an aluminum core spread the heat, and a thin stainless layer on the inside (and often, though not always) outside to provide a hard, less chemically reactive cooking surface. (Plain carbon) "steel" skillets do exist but aren't as common as either stainless-clad-aluminum or cast iron. –  Chris Stratton Oct 11 at 20:20

2 Answers 2

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What is the advantage of a steel skillet over a cast iron one? I currently use cast iron for most everything and am curious what I might be missing.

Pan sauces made with wine, vinegar, or any other acid are better in stainless steel. If you put any acid in cast-iron, you are harming your seasoning, and leeching iron into your food. This will affect the taste of your sauces, I find pan sauces taste metallic when made in cast iron.

Stainless steel also heats up and cools down much faster than cast-iron. This is great when you need quick heat, or fine control of your heat. You can also plunge a piping hot stainless pan into an ice-bath without cracking it in half.

If there's an advantage to getting a steel skillet as well, what would be recommended?

Go with a a bonded stainless-steel pan with an aluminum core. The most well known manufacturer is All-Clad. The stainless steel exterior is great due to it's non reactivity, you can literally put anything in it. The aluminum core distributes the heat much more quickly and evenly, minimizing hot-spots.

Is a steel skillet good for cooking omelettes?

Not in my opinion. I go with a non-stick pan every time.


I have to recommend sticking with a nonstick pan for eggs. There's simply nothing better, although well seasoned cast iron comes awful close. If you're spending more than $20 for a nonstick egg pan, you're doing it wrong. You don't need Calphalon, or any other big name for a good nonstick pan. Go to a restaurant supply store if you can and buy a cheap one there. With care it should last you 2-5 years depending on use. I found my current one at a Bed Bath & Beyond.

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Having tried making eggs on every kind of cookware I can think of, I'm 100% on agreement with using nonstick for eggs. I got mine at an outlet mall near the Poconos, PA and didn't pay more than $30 for it, and so far it's lasted 3+ years. –  stephennmcdonald Aug 24 '10 at 13:19
    
"I find pan sauces taste metallic when made in cast iron." -- is this your opinion regardless of whether there are acids involved or not? –  Tim Jan 8 '12 at 19:59
    
@TimN: I can't say. I don't believe I've made a pan sauce without some form of acid. –  hobodave Jan 9 '12 at 16:00

I agree with hobodave's answers, and let me add one more thing. A well made stainless pan will generally heat more evenly than cast iron. There is a myth about cast iron that it heats evenly, but it simply isn't so. It holds a lot of heat, which is a big benefit, but unless you move it around on the burner, there will be definite hot and cold spots corresponding to your burner pattern. (And I say this as a devoted but honest lover of cast iron, who uses it for almost everything I cook).

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I definitely agree there can be hot spots... I have an electric stove (no choice) and I thought that was to blame. –  JustRightMenus Aug 24 '10 at 13:10
    
While cast iron does have about twice the heat conductivity of stainless steel, it has only a third to quarter that of the aluminum which forms the working core of a clad pan. The aluminum layer will typically be thinner than a cast iron pan, partially offsetting the difference, but probably still coming out ahead in a good example. –  Chris Stratton Oct 11 at 20:18

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